Five Favorite Poetry Books

Lots of good poetry books to choose from this year.  Here are a few that I especially enjoyed.

 

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis

Published by Candlewick

Image result for shortest day susan cooper amazon

As I mentioned in a previous post, I didn’t find many new holiday books in 2019.  This beautifully illustrated version of Susan Cooper’s poem celebrating the winter solstice will be enjoyed for many Decembers to come.

 

I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Published by Lee & Low Books

Image result for i remember poems and pictures amazon

Neither the title nor the cover really drew me in, but I loved this book once I got past that.  Poems and illustrations by a variety of writers and artists celebrate childhoods from all around the world.

 

Poetree by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds, illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

Image result for poetree reynolds amazon

This picture book celebrates the power of words and would make a perfect introduction to poetry for early elementary students.

 

16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “The Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Rogers, illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Image result for 16 words william carlos amazon

I didn’t know I wanted to read a picture book of William Carlos Williams until I found 16 Words.  Another good one to share with students during a poetry unit, and a nice accompaniment to Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog, which includes the poem “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

 

The Day the Universe Exploded My Head by Allan Wolf, illustrated by Anna Raff

Published by Candlewick

Image result for day the universe exploded my head amazon

Now here’s a cover and title that draws you in immediately.  Proves, once again, that poetry can be fun and educational, too.

 

It’s not just the Caldecott

Although we in the children’s literature world tend to focus on the Newbery and Caldecott, check out the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards to see all the other categories that are recognized at the same time.  Here are a few picture books that I believe are worthy of consideration for some of those.

 

Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Published by Versify

Image result for undefeated kwame amazon

I love Kwame Alexander’s poem, but I think it’s illustrator Kadir Nelson who is most likely to be recognized with a Coretta Scott King award this year for his amazing portraits of the African Americans Alexander writes about.

 

The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Daniel Minter

Published by Alazar Press

Image result for women who caught babies amazon

This one could go either way for the Coretta Scott King award: both the poems and the illustrations are pretty amazing.

 

Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou by Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Tonya Engel

Published by Lee & Low Books

Image result for rise maya angelou amazon

Pity that Coretta Scott King committee who has so many worthy contenders to choose from this year.

 

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market! by Raul the Third

Published by Versify

Image result for vamos raul third amazon

I will be pretty surprised if Raúl the Third doesn’t get some sort of Pura Belpré recognition for his Richard Scarry-like illustrations of this trip to the market.  I was happy to learn recently that Let’s Go Eat! is coming out in March.

 

A Place to Land: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Published by Neal Porter Books

Image result for place to land martin luther amazon

And one more Coretta Scott King possibility.  Of course, all of these could be contenders for the Caldecott as well.  Truth be told, I dreamed up this blog post because there were so many I wanted to put on the Caldecott prediction post, and for some reason I always limit myself to five.

I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Published by Lee and Low Books

Image result for i remember poems and pictures of heritage lee bennett

Image result for i remember poems and pictures of heritage lee bennett

Summary:  Fourteen poets have written childhood remembrances, with an emphasis on their cultural heritage and how it shaped them.  Each poem is illustrated by a different artist, and every artist and poet has written a sentence or two about their art or writing.  Some (“Grandpa” by Douglas Florian; “Amazing Auntie Anne” by Cynthia Leitich Smith) celebrate a person; others (“Route 66” by Marilyn Nelson; “Tepechapa River” by Jorge Tetl Argueta), a particular place; and still others (“Speak Up” by Janet S. Wong; “Pick One” by Nick Bruel) speak to the experience of growing up as an immigrant in America.  Includes brief biographical information and photos of all the writers and illustrators. 56 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This beautiful and accessible collection of poetry and artwork shows readers the variety of experiences in America and may inspire them to find a way to express their own story through writing or art.

Cons:  The cover and title didn’t really grab me (sorry, Sean Qualls, I generally love your work); I was pleasantly surprised once I dove in.  

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

 

 

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Women Who Caught the Babies:  A Story of African American Midwives by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Daniel Minter

Published by Alazar Press

Image result for women who caught the babies minter

Image result for women who caught the babies minter

Summary:  Eloise Greenfield kicks things off with a five-page introduction giving a brief history of midwives, starting in Africa a few hundred years ago, traveling to slavery in America, and finishing up with midwives today.  This section is illustrated with black and white photographs. The rest of the book is her poetry, celebrating midwives of the past and present. There are seven poems altogether, from “Africa to America” to “After Emancipation, 1863” to “The Early 2000s”.  The final piece, “Miss Rovenia Mayo” is about the midwife who “caught” Eloise Greenfield on May 17, 1929. Includes a bibliography. 32 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  We should all hope to be producing works of art like this at the age of 90.  The poetry is lyrical and the illustrations are unique and fascinating. The Caldecott committee can add this to its list of works to consider, along with another Daniel Minter book, Going Down Home With Daddy.

Cons:  This doesn’t seem like a book most kids will pick up on their own. 

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre

Published by Kokila

Image result for at the mountains base traci sorell

Image result for at the mountains base traci sorell

Summary:  “At the mountain’s base grows a hickory tree.  Beneath this sits a cabin. In that cabin lies a cozy kitchen, where a stove’s fire warms.”  Around that stove, a family gathers and sings. They’re thinking of another woman in their family who is a pilot, away at war, but praying for peace.  Includes an author’s note about American Indian and Alaska Native women who have served in wars. One pilot in particular is profiled, Ola Mildred Rexroat, who was the only Native woman among 1074 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in World War II.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A brief, but beautiful poem celebrating Native women pilots and the families who support them.  Traci Sorell’s first book We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga was a Sibert honor book last year.

Cons:  Although the poem is lovely, I didn’t really understand it until after I read the author’s note.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “The Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Rogers, illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Image result for 16 words william carlos williams and the red wheelbarrow

Image result for 16 words william carlos williams and the red wheelbarrow

Summary:  “Look out the window. What do you see?” After this invitation to the reader, the author tells the story of Dr. William Carlos Williams, a physician who enjoyed scribbling poems on his prescription pad or as notes to his wife.  When he looked out the window of his New Jersey office, he saw his neighbor, Thaddeus Marshall, working in his garden or carrying his vegetables to market in a red wheelbarrow. Williams wrote about what he saw in the poem “The Red Wheelbarrow”.  “Those sixteen words do not describe Mr. Marshall’s chicken coop, or the train rattling nearby. They do not describe Mr. Marshall hefting that wheelbarrow, or the aches and pains he suffers from stooping to care for his plants. They do not describe Mr. Marshall’s life of work or caring or love.  But somehow they say just that.” Includes an author’s note, bibliography, and a list of six other poems by Williams. 40 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  I wasn’t super excited at the prospect of reading a picture book about William Carlos Williams, but this tells a gentle, beautiful (and beautifully illustrated) story that also shows how an ordinary man fit poetry into his everyday life.  It makes his poetry accessible to even early elementary students. This would be a perfect read-aloud in conjunction with Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog, which includes “The Red Wheelbarrow” as one of the poems the class studies.

Cons:  No photos of either Williams or Marshall. 

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Image result for red wheelbarrow william carlos williams

Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People by Bethany Hegedus, foreword by Colin Johnson, illustrations by Tonya Engel

Published by Lee and Low Books

Image result for rise from caged

Image result for rise from caged

Summary:  Beginning with young Maya’s journey south to live with her grandmother in Arkansas, the narrative describes her early experiences of blatant racism in the deep south, and continues as she and her brother went to live with their mother in St. Louis.  Her rape by her mother’s boyfriend is described indirectly: “One day, Maya, left alone with Mr. Freeman, is anything but free. After a visit to the hospital, Maya calls out Mr. Freeman’s name as the one who hurt her.” Soon after, he was murdered, and Maya stopped speaking for several years, burying herself in books until she slowly emerged to become a dancer, actress, cable car driver, mother, and finally, a writer and activist. Ending with her death at age 86, the author assures readers that Maya’s words will “always rise rise rise”.  Includes a foreword by Angelou’s grandson; a timeline; resources for children who have been sexually abused; and a bibliography. 48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Gorgeous acrylic illustrations and poetic text detail the many different aspects of Maya Angelou’s incredible life.  Due to the horrific events of her childhood, it can be tricky to share her story with children, but Hegedus does a good job not shying away from Maya’s rape and its aftermath in a way that’s appropriate for the intended audience.  

Cons:  I had no idea Maya Angelou did so many different interesting things in her life.  It’s hard to cram it all into one picture book.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.